Who Do You Think You Are?

September 13, 2007 by  
Filed under News

John HurtWho Do You Think You Are?” is a programme about celebrities trying to find out more about their ancestors, based on  the scant information that they have from parents, grandparents, or family members. It gives an insight into the various sources of information available to budding genealogists – such as old Census records, birth, death and marriage certificates, baptism and parish records.

The programme featured actor John Hurt who was born in Derbyshire, but brought up with his elder brother Michael and adopted sister Monica. John is the son of a Church of England clergyman and his brother has also followed into the Church, but as a monk in an Abbey in the west of Ireland.

John Hurt visited Dublin 40 years ago as a young actor and felt some affinity with Ireland. His brother thought that their great grandmother, Emma Stafford was the illegitimate daughter of a Marquis of Sligo. Emma married Walter Lord Browne who was clearly a man with delusions of grandeur. He built a school in Grimsby and called it Westport House (which is also the Ancestral home of the Marquis of Sligo), thus perpetuating the myth.

John Hurt met the current 11th Marquis of Sligo – Jeremy Browne and they determined that the second Marquis, Howe Peter Browne who was a friend of Byron and had a reputation for being entangled with many women. The aristocracy sometimes made their illegitimate children as a ward of chancery, which protected certain details about parentage. This was only awarded where the parents were of means and Emma had been made a ward of chancery. Thus, it was possible that the Marquis could have been her father. However, it was later discovered that Emma Stafford’s parents were recorded as Edward and Emma Stafford and that her husband was her first cousin. She was brought up in a boarding school and went on to become a governess.

As her husband had the same surname as the Marquis of Sligo – Browne, it was then thought that the aristocratic link was to John Hurt’s great grandfather, Walter, instead. Further examination of records and in particular, the occupation of his great great grandfather for the Bond Office (customs), showed that Walter inflated the importance of his father’s job (saying that he was head of the Bond Office, when he was a clerk). A copy of Walter’s obituary was found which referred to him being descended from the Marquis of Sligo but there were no links in the family trees of both families.

John Hurt was disappointed to find that he had no connections at all with Ireland.

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